17 Mr. Man Next Door (1)

Burt

I felt something tickle my nose. It smelled of steel and rubber and baby powder. I opened my eyes and the bottom of a matchbox race car was lightly tapping my face. Behind it, I could make out Billy's pudgy face, gurgling at me.

"Wise and shine!" he giggled. Ugh. My mini-Mark.

I rubbed my face, and heard him chuckle as he continued to tap his race car on the back of my hand. I nearly said, Mark, stop that.

It's a common opinion, actually. Jamie voices this out a lot, but others quickly agree. With his boisterous nature, and tendency to lose his temper for the smallest thing, Billy is an almost exact tiny version of Mark. Ever since he figured out how talking works, he spends every waking moment... talking. To anyone who would listen, to his cars, to the TV. Jamie was a guest on a cooking show once and he kept yelling at the screen, "More sugar, Uncle Jamie, put more sugar!!! Sugar is like the best thing ever, it will make your dinner very nice..."

"That's so Mark!" Jamie doubled over in laughter when I told him. Luckily, Billy looks almost exactly like me when I was his age, so there is no doubting whose son he really is.

"Honeybun, stop harassing Dada," Michelle pulled the tiny monster from the bed, and set him on the floor. "Go wash your face, we're about to eat breakfast."

"Dada too?" Billy looked back at us, hanging on the doorknob with his free hand.

"No, puppy, he has to sleep a bit more, he's been working too hard."

I watched the tiny face fall and about to start complaining, very Mark actually, and I quickly interjected, "Dada too. I'll have breakfast with my Billy boy."

His tiny face lit up like the stage at the start of one of one of our concerts and said, "But I'm not a boy, I'm a man!"

"Go wash your face, Mr. Man," Michelle laughed, pushing his butt out of the room.

"I'm Mr. Man," he agreed, continuing to blabber on as he walked away. "I'm Mr. Man Next Door..."

"What did he say?" I snorted as Michelle fell into the bed, giggling.

"Did you know that that's what your fans called you guys when you released Hunger? Suddenly The Men Next Door," she threw her head back in laughter. "It sounds so off!"

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That's not so bad, I decided. It could've been worse.

I remembered when Ned gathered us up that time to tell us we were debuting as band named Boy Next Door, and basically what was expected of us and what we were going to be as a group: Steve and I shared main vocals, LJ and Jamie were harmonies, Mark was our rapper. My voice was like honey, he said, but I needed to hit the correct pitch all the time, I needed to work on that in my free time. We also needed to dance to all our songs, even the ballads, which I thought was pointless, and it was important for me to keep up and schedule extra practice sessions at the studio, Jamie and LJ had to help me master the steps when they could. And I was put on a diet, me and Jamie, we were both put on a diet, and had a strict rule of not eating anything after 8PM.

"Any questions?" Ned asked us.

"I have a complaint," Steve said. "Why are we debuting as stupid goody 2 shoes while Marvin's group are sexy slut whores? Who said they were sexier than us?"

"Because LJ is not a sexy slut whore," came the obvious reply. "Any other questions?"

"Can we take LJ out of the band, then?" Steve didn't even blink.

"No," Ned said, matching Steve's tone.

"I can be a sexy slut whore," LJ said, nervously, mostly so that Steve won't kick him out of the band.

Ned looked at LJ and shook his head, also somehow telling him not to rise to the bait. LJ was only 13 then.

"People will laugh at us like they laughed at New Kids on the Block, that someday they'll have to change their name to Old Winos on the Corner," Steve persisted.

"If you guys don't like your concept, then you can leave," Ned said, dryly. Ned still managed to scare us all back then; he was our boss and we couldn't talk back to him. Not yet, anyway. Steve shut his mouth at that.

"Any other questions?"

"How long am I supposed to be on this diet?" I asked. Jamie bit down a snort, but we all heard it and started laughing.

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